Guitarist Jimmy Page arrived this week in New York to launch his photographic autobiography, Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page (Genesis Publications), which documents his contribution to music in over 650 photographs, starting with his early adoration for the guitar and American blues music, folk and rockabilly up through his current collaborations. It is a beautiful and visually absorbing book that would make a perfect gift for any fan.
Internationally renowned artist Jeff Koons introduced Page for their talk at the 92nd Street Y’s Kaufman Concert Hall. Koons confessed that he was 14 years old when he first heard the Led Zeppelin I album, saying, “It changed my life. It gave me a sense of hope and expansion.” The two spoke as photographs from the book, which Koons selected, were projected onto a screen behind them.
The book, which took Page two years to create, opens with a chiaroscuro-styled photograph of the young artist as an angelic-looking choirboy with the simple caption, “It might get loud…”
This particular photograph, Page explained, was taken by the church organist, Mr. Dennis Coffin.
“He happened to be an amateur photographer and gave the photo to my family,” he said. “Later on, his son-in-law recalled how I used to arrive at choir practice early. It was my first experience with music and I was already playing guitar at that time. I was seduced by mostly American music that I heard coming through the radio–Little Richard and rock ‘n roll like Cliff Richard, Lonnie Donegan and skiffle music.”
Page made his first television appearance with his guitar when he was 13 years old and described his debut persona as being very shy, introverted and overwhelmed by the bright studio lights. Not knowing just yet where he would go with the guitar, he kept up his academic work, all while barreling through the blues catalog from Chess Records in Chicago.
The book depicts these early days in a feast of photographs where Page, with his guitar in hand, was surrounded by classmates eager to start their own bands. One that Page played with, in 1962, was Chris Tidmarsh’s Red E. Lewis & The Redcaps. The band soon re-formed, with Tidmarsh becoming “Neil Christian” with his band mates, The Crusaders. The book has an amusing photograph of the young band posing beside the decommissioned London City Council ambulance that served as their van.
Page was attending the Sutton School of Art in London when his session work took off.
“Later, I did learn to read music but, at this time, I read chord charts,” he said. “The studio world was a closed shop, a place where time equals money. If you didn’t deliver, they would send you home, which never happened to me. I did pretty good. I worked with Herman’s Hermits and Donovan. You can also hear my playing on The Who’s I Can’t Explain.”
His book details session work with The Kinks, Joe Cocker, Lulu, Al Stewart, Marianne Faithfull, Van Morrison & Them, Dusty Springfield, Tom Jones, David Bowie, Roy Orbison, Burt Bacharach, The Everly Brothers, Françoise Hardy, Sylvie Vartan and Jackie DeShannon. His playing can also be heard on Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” Bond theme, the soundtrack to Casino Royale and The Beatles album, A Hard Day’s Night.
There is another fantastic photo of Page, shot again by Dennis Coffin. Page is all of 20 years old, holding his 1960 Gibson Les Paul Custom Black Beauty guitar inside the Selmer Showroom on Charing Cross Road.
Soon, Page was working as an arranger and producer for Andrew Oldham’s record label, Immediate, where he lent his expertise to the John Mayall and Eric Clapton tracks I’m Your Witch Doctor, Telephone Blues, and Sitting On Top Of The World
He explained how he came to join The Yardbirds: “Jeff Beck and I go so far back that we knew each other when we both had homemade guitars,” Page said. “Jeff invited me to attend their show at Oxford University the very evening when their bass player, Paul Samwell-Smith, quit.” Page was immediately enlisted.
“I would have played the triangle, had they asked!” he said. Page replaced Samwell-Smith as a bassist before Chris Dreja took over, which allowed Page to switch over to the front line and join Jeff in playing guitar.
The book includes the touring schedules of every band Page has worked with, listing date, venue and town overlaid with colorful visa stamps taken directly from his passports. The first of these lists lays out The Yardbirds’ intense touring schedules of 1966 through 1968.
“In July of 1968, The Yardbirds disbanded,” Page recalled. “There had already been three guitarist changes and a crippling schedule of singles, which did not allow us to do what we were doing live. I formed The New Yardbirds from players in the underground circuit. I had a vision—I wanted more control and needed the personnel. The guitar was going to be the tour de force but not at the expense of the other musicians. Our approach was unlike anything anyone had done before.” The New Yardbirds, comprised of Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, changed their band name to Led Zeppelin in 1968.
He discussed his version of the song, “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You,” which he first heard sung by Joan Baez. “I found it to be a haunting song,” Page said. He invited Robert Plant to visit his home to see how they could arrange it and imprint it with their own style.
“Robert proved to be mutable with his singing.”
“The Baez version is good,” Jeff Koons concurred. “But Plant’s version of it is a force of nature. Listen to him sing and you can feel antlers growing out of your head.”
“I thought it was a traditional song because no writer was listed on the Vanguard label,” Page said. “I added acoustic and flamenco aspects to it along with more height and drama.”
As he spoke, a black and white photograph appeared onscreen of Jimmy Page seated with headphones clamped over his ears, engrossed in playing an acoustic guitar inside a vast room. He is positioned in front of a solitary recording mic set amid a tangle of wires snaking across the floor. Off to the side sits a drum kit and an organ. The photo was taken in 1969 at Olympic Studios in Barnes, London, when Page was recording the organ and acoustic guitar parts for the song “La La” for Led Zeppelin II.
“‘La La’ turned into an instrumental piece because Robert Plant didn’t have the time to write the lyrics. He has now written them and the song will be released with lyrics for the first time this upcoming June,” Page said.
As for his creative process, Page said, “It all starts from the guitar and trying to develop my own technique. I love the sound of Howlin’ Wolf and Chicago blues riffs, a hybrid of blues and folk. Much of my music incorporates spontaneity and an intuitive approach.”
Page pointed out that Pro Tools is great for mixing and arranging but he admitted to feeling disturbed by the current trend of editing and parsing recorded vocals down to the syllable.
“My point of view is that musical performance comes first,” he said. “I still go to London to see kids perform and I enjoy observing how the young musicians are putting it all together. Music will always change and I want to know what is going on.”
The rigors of touring induced Page and Plant to get away for a time to Bron-Yr-Aur in the Welsh countryside in 1970. In the book, there is a photograph of a serene, smiling Page seated on a rock in the middle of river with his wellie-clad feet submerged in the current, against a backdrop of autumnal leaves strewn across the bankside.
“We had no electricity there, just gas lights,” Page said. “There was no hot water but for what you could make in a kettle. You can make out a bit of stubble growing on my chin in that photograph. That is when I started growing my beard until I eventually looked like a black-haired Father Christmas.”
And it wasn’t only his hair.
“The sets for Led Zeppelin were also growing longer at that point after each new album we made,” Page said. “We had to decide what to put in and yet we did not want to drop anything. Onstage, we had an idea of running order but we did not know what was going to happen next. We did not do any carbon copies of our albums onstage because we were not caught up in the singles market. You generate an energy with an audience when performing. The band sends a message to the audience and it is a communion. Led Zeppelin concert energy was amazing and exhilarating, a harnessing of energy.”
At one point during the slideshow of book images selected by Koons, a photograph appeared of Page seated backstage at a 1975 concert in Indianapolis, engaged in a full-on slug of Jack Daniels, his head thrown back to catch the last drop. The slideshow technician clicked hastily to the next slide but Page made him go back a frame.
“Well, all right. I was having a good time,” he said. “I think I entitled that one, ‘Homeopathic remedy.’”
Page also spoke of subsequent Led Zeppelin reunions after the death of John Bonham.
“The Live Aid reunion was horrific because we had all of one and a half hours for rehearsal but for the Celebration Day film, we were able to rehearse properly.”
Page had nothing but high praise for Jason Bonham. “I toured with him in 1988 and performed at his wedding. For the O2 reunion concert, we rehearsed and rehearsed and made sure he felt like he was part of the original band.” Of the 02 stadium concert, Page says, “It was so hot onstage! I was overdressed in a waistcoat and it turned out to be boiling with all the lighting.”
Page also spoke of his collaboration with Robert Plant on their No Quarter live album recorded for their Unledded tour.
“We went to Morocco with one track and worked with local musicians to build it,” he says.
He and Plant also recorded this album in the rain at a slate mine in Wales and then at London TV Studios with an orchestra, a rhythm section, hurdy-gurdy player, four Egyptian violinists and four Egyptian percussionists. When leafing through the book, it isn’t difficult to trace some of Page’s influences here. There is a photograph of Page with William Burroughs from when they met in New York in 1975 for an interview in Crawdaddy!, where Burroughs wrote about rock music, trance music and Morocco.
When an audience question arose over his use of the theremin, Page said, “The theremin was alive and well in the 1930s, described as science played with two hands. A smaller version looked like a transistor radio. The closer your hands to the aerial, the higher the pitch and if you move your hand away from aerial, the lower pitch lowers. I married this sound with tape delay for ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and ‘No Quarter.’”
With 500 pages packed with photographs, it begins to sink in just how truly comprehensive this book is, as a visual overview of Page’s career. There is a photo of him performing with The Black Crowes in London in 1999. “They were so good to play with,” he said.
And his performance of “A Whole Lotta Love” with singer Leona Lewis at the 2008 Beijing Olympics closing ceremony turned out to be the most watched guitar solo in television history.
“Leona Lewis had just won the X Factor and then did this. She was really ballsy. It was great. I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like that and it included David Beckham kicking a football as well.”
“The film, It Might Get Loud was fascinating,” Page says. “The director, David Guggenheim, wanted us to have a communion but he did not want us meet in advance. I would’ve loved for us to do a blues number to see how we all worked. The Edge, who is a sound wizard, ad-libbed a solo on ‘In My Time of Dying’ that was brilliant.”
As the first pages open to the photograph of Jimmy Page as a young choir boy with the caption, “It might get loud,” the book closes appropriately with a similarly striking, more recent photo of him, accompanied by the caption, “It might get louder.”
Still the fan, Koons asked, “How about if I gave you an image for your next album cover?”
“Sure!” Page responded.
As for his 2015 plans and beyond: Page relayed that he has been working on his website and the book, along with archiving his material. In addition to this, he has been preparing more Led Zeppelin companion discs for release next year.
“My plan is that I’ll be getting up to speed to play live like I did for O2. And I also have a very secret project in the works. I’m sure there will be internet forums telling you what it is,” he laughed, adding that he has much more to do.
“I am still a young man!”
“Great artists only get better,” Koons said. “You’re like Picasso. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
An official ‘Zoso’ logo hand-stamped copy of Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page may be reserved online directly from Genesis Publications. The book is also available from major bookstores.
The book trailer:
The cover photograph for this story featured on the home page is courtesy of Joyce Culver.
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Click here for a comprehensive overview of Jeff Koons works.